Massachusetts artwork gallery explores African American and Northern Irish civil rights

If, until not so long ago, you have heard of a California artist who delved deeply into the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland and the struggle for civil rights in the south of Jim Crow, you may have said, “What’s more American than that? ? “

And it would have been a compliment.

So many of us have problems, don’t we? Let’s build some bridges to cross them, shall we?

Nowadays? Not as much.

Because some people will scream and shout that the Irish have been suppressed too. They were even slaves! I saw it on Facebook! But they survived!

And other people will shout that Asian Americans have no right to tell the story of the African Americans down south by Jim Crow, who shouldn’t embroil their story with conformist, homophobic, repressive, pedophile Catholics.


In the face of this noise, the artist Glenn Kaino went ahead and still tried to tell his story.

It’s called “In the Light of a Shadow” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and should be one of the first places you walk in life after Covid.

Kaino’s exhibition, organizers say, was “inspired by the connection between protests around the world, particularly those in response to the tragic events known as Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama and Derry, Northern Ireland”.

The exhibition is roughly the size of a soccer field and takes “the entirety of the MASS MoCA gallery … Building 5 (and) explores the power of collective action in creating a fairer world”.

Such cross-cultural pursuits for justice once seemed almost daring, not least because Irish Catholics (at least in the US) were, shall we say, inconsistent allies during the African-American struggle for civil rights in the 1960s.

But in 2021, Kaino’s connections seem downright old-fashioned.

All the more so as “Light of a Shadow” also contains “a circular sculpture made of metal rods which, one after the other hit with a baton, play the melody of U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’”.

The organizers say this “turns a barrier into a plea for an end to violence, protest and civil rights violations. Next to the sculpture is a video that Kaino recorded with Deon Jones, an activist and singer who was brutally ill-treated by police while protesting the murder of George Floyd.

Yes. That is much.

Kaino certainly leans towards the kitchen sink approach to social justice – throw in loads of stuff and hope something connects.

Because of this, perhaps the most interesting thing about Kaino’s exhibition is “a sculpture of the Shadow V, the boat carrying Lord Mountbatten that was bombed by the Irish Republican Army in 1979 and killed him and three others,” as the New York Times added : “But the boat made of steel and wood has been bent into a version of an ouroboros – the snake that eats its own tail.”

Well this is not a rebel song indeed!

According to the Times, Kaino’s exhibition “links the civil rights movement in the United States to Black Lives Matter and the ongoing conflict over Northern Ireland’s independence from the UK, particularly the three decades of violence.” known as the problems. “

Kaino himself says: “The thread is that the struggle for equality is universal.”

Well, that certainly seems reasonable. Who could have a problem with that?

But then? Uh oh More trouble.

The Times must point out that Kaino also “notes that he did not identify the causes”.

So these struggles are “universal”. But don’t go right away.


It is worth mentioning here that Martin Luther King, when his most famous speech reached its climax, alluded to freedom in “every village and hamlet” for “blacks and whites” as well as “Protestants and Catholics”.

Yes. I know. That’s pretty old school too.

On Twitter: @TomDeignan

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